Medicine Through Literature began in 2007 when a group of fourth-year medical students requested an elective in which they could read and discuss stories and books "that had nothing to do with medicine." That first year we discovered that no matter what we read, our discussions often returned to the practice of medicine, because doctoring is about human struggle---through illness and death, through love and relationships---and so much great writing has at its core these central themes. The selections for this course have changed every year, but the issues, the questions, remain constant.
Schedule: The course begins in August and ends in early April so that it will not interfere with preparations for second-year final exams and the USMLE Step 1. Most of the course takes place over the web via Blackboard so as to allow for maximum flexibility in students' schedules. After each reading block, there will be an evening meeting to discuss the material.
Why Medicine through Literature? Dr. Rita Charon, internist, writer, and a scholar in the forefront of the "Narrative Medicine" movement in America, defines this discipline as "medicine practiced with the narrative competence to recognize, interpret, and be moved to action by the predicaments of others." ("Narrative Medicine: Form, Function, Ethics," R. Charon, Annals of Internal Medicine, 1/2001.)
Phillip Lopate, one of the important essayists of our time, visited our campus in April, 2010. In an interview with Poets and Writers magazine, he said: "Literature allows us to be more understanding about human frailty, about error, tragic flaws, and therefore, makes us more forgiving, and more self-forgiving."
What's the purpose of this course? First, to enjoy the readings! Second, for students to use the readings as a tool to prepare for and process their clinical experiences, and to approach their development as individuals and as physicians. Third, to interact with other second- and fourth-year students and faculty in a venue this is open and informal.
Who'll be leading the course? Dr. Jerald Winakur and Lee Robinson, JD, who've served as Associate Faculty at the Center since its inception, will lead the Blackboard discussions and will be present at each of the six evening meetings. In addition, guest experts and lecturers will attend the meetings. Students contributions to this course--not just the insights they have gained as medical students but the wisdom they bring to the class as human beings--are critical to its success.
Grading: There will be no right or wrong answers in this course; rather, our goal is to encourage thoughtful and serious responses to the readings and a lively and fulfilling conversation about them and the issues they raise. Please see the syllabus for details on grading for MSII and MSIV.
Students: We will be able to accommodate 10 second-year and 30 fourth-year students. Registration will be done on a first come, first served basis. Interested students should contact firstname.lastname@example.org and submit an add/drop (MS4) or Enrichment Elective (MS2) form to the Center for Medical Humanities & Ethics, Briscoe Library, 4.042 for processing.